Mental Experience: the label’s philosophies, music influences and challenges of running a vinyl label.
Words by Miguel Ferreira. Photography Alex Carretero
"I guess that when you spend years listening and searching for garage, psychedelic and progressive music from the 60s / 70s, it’s a natural step to start digging deeper and going back to experimental, electro-acoustic and musique concrete, which were very present in the recording techniques during the 60s." says Mental Experience label co-founder Alex Carretero.
Mental Experience was founded only in early 2016, but this fantastic Spanish label has already built a truly impressive catalog marked by diversity, from 60s-70s-80s Krautrock, Kosmische, ambient to experimental, Avant-garde jazz or vintage electronica. In the following exclusive interview, we discuss the label’s philosophies, music influences and challenges of running a vinyl label.
Tell us about the story behind Mental Experience - how did the label get started, what really sparked you into getting the label going?
Mental Experience is a Guerssen imprint, launched in early 2016. Guerssen is known basically for its reissues of psych, garage, prog-rock, folk, hard-rock, Anatolian Rock, etc. The Mental Experience idea came about when we realized that we were interested in reissuing music which was very different than the “rock” stuff we usually put out. I’m talking about Kraut, vintage electronica, experimental, avant-garde, post-punk, free-jazz, etc. So we decided to launch this new sub-label for all those things. Doing it that way, we would not scare our usual Guerssen customers with these “unlistenable” music (laughs).
What are the main principles and ideals of the label?
The same we try to do with Guerssen. To put out nice, high quality reissues of cool, interesting and hard-to-find albums.
Mental Experience was only founded in 2016, but you guys have already built a truly impressive catalog market by diversity. The label has been releasing a bit of everything, from 60s-70s-80s Krautrock, Kosmische, ambient, experimental, Avant-garde jazz, vintage electronica, and more. I'd be curious about what doesn't fit within the Mental Experience catalog?
In the artistic aspect, Mental Experience is basically run by me (Alex Carretero) and I also work full time at Guerssen. I guess it’s like an extension of my eclectic musical tastes and my continuing search for musical thrills and kicks, no matter the genres or era when the music was recorded. Obviously, a hard-rock or garage album would not fit on Mental Experience, because that’s the type of music we cover with Guerssen and our other sub-labels.
Can you name some of the artists/albums that made you want to dig even deeper and inspired you to do what you do at Mental Experience?
Nurse With Wound (and of course the famous NWW list from the first album) were a big influence. Oddly enough, I got to know Steve Stapleton in the 90s, when my friend Diego Zaitégui, who was friends with David Tibet from Current 93, invited him to stay during one summer at my hometown, Almería (south of Spain) and he brought along Steve Stapleton with him. He was very nice, telling me incredible stories of buying multiple copies of strange and obscure psych, prog and kraut albums for next to nothing in the 70s. During that time - mid 90s - Steve was doing some gigs as a DJ. I found this very odd so I asked what kind of music he played. “The entire Cromagnon “Orgasm” album”, he replied (laughs).
Also, I guess that when you spend years listening and searching for garage, psychedelic and progressive music from the 60s / 70s, it’s a natural step to start digging deeper and going back to experimental, electro-acoustic and musique concrete, which were very present in the recording techniques during the 60s. And sometimes, you need to listen to other different things outside the 60s-70s timeframe to clear your mind when you’re a bit fed up. Besides, I’ve always loved Pierre Henry and electronic psych stuff like Silver Apples, White Noise, Lothar & The Hand People, etc.
Another big influence is the DIY experimental and post-punk scene of the late 70s / early 80s. A time when lot of weird bands appeared, similar to the garage explosion of the 60s. Some of those bands pushed the limits of musical boundaries, mixing psychedelia, garage and kraut with noise and experimentation. Also, underground fanzines like Ptolemaic Terrascope, Forced Exposure, Black to Comm…They shaped my musical tastes and thanks to them, I discovered a whole world of incredible music within the “underground”. I spent a big part of the 90s locked in my room devouring these ‘zines. I worship writers like Byron Coley, Phil McMullen, Nick Saloman, Chris Stigliano…
What kind of music did you listen to when you were a kid?
I grew up in the 80s in Almería, an isolated town from the south of Spain. As a kid, I was a big Beatles fan thanks to the records from my older sister. The first ones I heard were The White Album and Sgt. Pepper so I guess they marked me for life. In my teens after the usual commercial 80s music, I got into Goth Rock. I was into the Sisters Of Mercy, the Mission – one of the first bands I saw in concert, when I was 15 years old - , the Cure, Christian Death and all that. Luckily, there were in my town a bunch of guys older than me with some amazing record collections who took me under their wing and discovered me lot of cool things. I also devoured every music mag I could find. By then, I was also into 60s and 70s music, bands like Stooges, MC5, Seeds, Sonics, Love, Television, Velvet Underground, etc, which still are my faves. And also lot of punk: Damned, Pistols, Ramones, Only Ones…
There were a few record shops in Almería and I spent most of my time hanging out there. It was a small city but there were some interesting people, like electronic music pioneer and Kraut fan Juan Manuel Cidrón. I remember visiting him at the record station where he worked and listening to things like Asmus Tietchens or Kid Baltan & Tom Dissevelt, which blew my mind.
In those pre-internet days, radio was also very important, especially the nationally broadcasted RNE-Radio 3, which in the 80s was pretty cool. I remember listening to Pierre Henry there for the first time. I loved a program called “Ars Sonora”, dedicated to experimental sounds.
At the same time that I was listening to 60s-70s music, I was also into current bands like the whole Creation scene - Ride, My Bloody Valentine, Jesus & Mary Chain -…I liked these bands because they sounded like an updated version of the noisy stuff I liked from the 60s: “How does it feel” by the Creation, “When the night falls” by the Eyes, “City Jungle” by Beautiful Daze, etc. I was also into things like the Pastels, Dinosaur Jr, Spacemen 3, etc.
A big discovery for me was the first Sun Dial album in 1990, which was quite a revelation and acted as a bridge between the indie / shoegaze scene and underground psychedelia. Also, the discovery of Bevis Frond and the whole Ptolemaic Terrascope scene was life changing, leading me definitely to obscure psychedelia, prog, folk, etc.
What are the things that you look for when searching for artists and albums to reissue? And how do you usually discover those artists and albums?
We look for things which are hard to find in its original form or have remained unreleased or just overlooked. Also, I love music which sounds years ahead of its time. And of course, it has to “click” with my personal tastes. Something that excites my imagination or arouses my curiosity.
Sometimes I discover some albums by chance, while looking for other unrelated things. Or I just see a cover that excites my curiosity, like the Jorge Antunes one, where he looks like Brian Eno. I’m also very lucky to be friends with people like Alan Freeman (Ultima Thule, The Crack In The Cosmic Egg), who’s a fountain of knowledge. He turned me into the Circles albums, for example, which were the first releases on Mental Experience, after I tracked down the band members. Another friend, Steve Krakow, from the amazing Galactic Zoo Dossier fanzine, approached us for doing the Red Square album, which is really mental stuff.
I also have a considerable collection of 80s-90s underground music mags, fanzines, record lists, catalogues…so they are a great source of inspiration and knowledge.
We’re very excited now with two upcoming reissues on Mental Experience: Voigt 465 (80s post-punk garage from Australia) and Kozmonaut (our first foray into 80s minimal synth / electro sounds). And of course, we’ll continue with our reissue program of the complete Pyramid catalogue stuff. Next one is Cozmic Corridors, which I think is one of the most disturbing, yet fascinating, albums ever. It has an incredible proto-industrial, dark ambient vibe.
Tell us a bit more about the process of tracking artists down to ask for their permission to reissue their records on vinyl. I'm guessing you've probably met a few interesting characters along the way. Any funny stories you can share?
Well, that’s a big part of my work for Guerssen. Obviously, it’s easier now with the internet, Facebook, etc. But sometimes it can be very difficult. Over the years, I’ve managed to improve my skills to the point that If I leave the music business, I think I could work as a private investigator (laughs). Lot of funny stories. I once tracked down a member from a very obscure German band. I sent him a nice message, asking if he would be interested in a license for a reissue of their album. His reply was just “NO”. Nothing more, not even a “Hello” (laughs). Also, the search for Toby Robinson (owner of the Pyramid stuff) was pretty bizarre and it took me a couple of years. All the people I asked for info told me he had passed away. So it was quite a shock when I discovered that he was still alive and kicking.
Usually, all the bands / artists I approach are delighted with the idea of reissuing their music. But I’ve encountered a few that, sadly, are not interested.
How did you discover Ildefonso Aguilar?
It was a name whispered by some of my collector friends. And then, one day at a record fair in Spain I saw a box on the floor choc full of rare industrial and experimental music original albums. There was a copy of “Erosión” there. I purchased it at the moment. Oddly enough, when I went to pay for it, I discovered that the guy selling the albums was an old friend of mine from Zaragoza, Javier Cinca, selling his collection of experimental music. That day, I discovered that Javier was the man behind the S.T.I, one of the biggest mail-order and distribution companies dedicated to industrial and experimental music during the 80s in Spain. I had known him for years but he had never told me about his “experimental” past, I was blown away. He knew Ildefonso back at the time and even distributed the album when it originally came out. When I listened to “Erosión” for the first time, I thought it was fantastic and one of the most “kraut” sounding albums ever released in Spain. No wonder Ildefonso recorded it in Germany. Later, “Erosión” was included in one of the Hans Pokora books. I always had it mind for a possible reissue so when we launched Mental Experience, it was the perfect occasion.
What has been the most challenging aspect of running a vinyl record label?
More or less, I only run the artistic side of it. I think Antoni Gorgues (founder of Guerssen Records) would be the right person to answer this. He’s been in the business since 1995 and I’ve been working at Guerssen since 2007. But I guess the most challenging aspect is trying to survive and make your passion, music, your way of living.
What’s a typical day like as a record label owner?
Lot of work!! I guess is not so different than any other office work. The only difference is that we can blast loud music all day and nobody complains (laughs).
What type of legacy do you hope to leave with Mental Experience?
That we did things the right way and helped to bring again to life some obscure music and artists.
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